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Summaries of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders of the International Court of Justice

Not an official document

AMBATIELOS CASE (MERITS)


Judgment of 19 May 1953

The proceedings in the Ambatielos case (Merits: Obliga- prompted by the same motives and adopted the same method
tion to Arbitrate), between Greece and the United Kingdom of arbitration. By the Judgment of July lst, 1952, the merits
of Great Britain and Northern Ireland had lwen instituted by of the Ambatielos claim were found to be outside the juris-
an Application by the Hellenic Governme~~t, which, having diction of the Court which consists solely of deciding
taken up the case of one of its national!;, the shipowner whether the United Kingdom is under an obligation to accept
Ambatielos, prayed the Coua to declare tha.t the claim which arbitration. The liimited jurisdiction of the Court is to be
the latter had made against the Government of the United clearly distinguished from the jurisdiction of the Commis-
Kingdom should be submitted to arbitration in accordance sion of Arbitration. The Court must refrain from pronounc-
with Anglo-Greek Agreements concluded in 1886 (Treaty ing final judgment upon any question of fact or law falling
and Protocol) and in 1926 (Declaration). Following a Prelim- within the merits; its task will have been completed when it
inary Objection lodged by the United Kingdom, the Court has decided whether the difference with regard to the
found that it had jurisdiction to adjudicate on this question by Ambatielos claim is a difference as to the validity of a claim
a Judgment delivered on July I st, 1952. on behalf of a priviite person based on the provisions of the
In its Judgment on the merits the Court found by ten votes Treaty of 1886and .whether,in consequence, there is an obli-
to four that the United Kingdom was under an obligation to gation binding the lJnited Kingdom to accept arbitration.
submit to arbitration, in accordance with the Declaration of What meaning is, to be attributed to the word "based" on
1926, the difference as to the validity, under the Treaty of the Treaty of 1886?In the opinion of the Greek Government
1886, of the Ambatielos claim. it would suffice that the claim should not prima facie appear
Sir Arnold McNair, President, Judges Elasdevant, Klae- to be unconnected with the Treaty. In the view of the United
stad and Road appended to the Judgment a joint statement of Kingdom, it is necessary for the Court to determine, as a sub-
their dissenting opinion. stantive issue, whe:ther the claim is actually or genuinely
based on the Treaty. The Court is unable to accept either of
these views. The firin would constitute an insufficient reason;
the second would lead to the substitution of the Court for the
Commission of Arbitration in vassinrr on a mint which con-
In its Judgment, the Court begins by defining the question stitutes one of the principal el&ents;f the claim. The Com-
before it: is the United Kingdom under im obligation to mission alone has jiurisdiction to adjudicate on the merits;
accept arbitration of the difference between that Government and it cannot be assumed that the Agreement of 1926 con-
and the Hellenic Government concerning the validity of the templates that the verification of the allegations of fact
Ambatielos claim, in so far as this claim is based on the should be the duty crf the Commission, while the determina-
Treaty of 1886? The distinctive character oithis case is that tion of the question whether the facts alleged constitute a vio-
quite unlike the Mavrommatis hlestine Concessions, lation of the Treaty of 1886 should form the task of another
decided by the Permanent Coua of International Justice in tribunal.
1924 the Court is called upon to decide, not its own jurisdic- At the time of the signature of the Declaration of 1926, the
tion, but whether a dispute should be referred to another tri- British and Greek Governments never intended that one of
bunal for arbitration. them alone or somc: other organ should decide whether a
The Parties have rested their case on the Declaration of claim was genuinely based on the Treaty of 1886; it must
1926 and the Judgment of the Court of July lst, 1952. The have been their intention that the genuineness of the Treaty
Declaration was agreed upon for the purpose of safeguarding basis of any claim, if contested, should be authoritatively
the interests of the Parties with respect to claims on behalf of decided by the Com~nissionof Arbitration, together with any
private persons based on the Treaty of 1886, for which, on other questions relating to the merits.
the termination of that 'Ikeaty, there would have been no rem- For the purpose of determining the obligation of the
edy in the event of the failure of the Parties to arrive at amica- United Kingdom to accept arbitration, the expression claims
ble settlements. The Agreement of 1926 relates to a limited based on the 'Iteaty of 1886cannot be understood as meaning
category of differences which the Agreement of 1886 pro- claims actually supportable under that Treaty. Of course it is
vided should be settled by arbitration, namely differences as not enough that a claim should have a remote connection
to the validity of claims on behalf of private persons based on with the Treaty for it to be based on it; on the other hand it is
the Treaty of 1886. But in both cases the Parties were not necessary that ,an unassailable legal basis should be

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shown for an alleged Treaty violation. In its context, the in Article X of the Treaty of 1886 which would permit Greece
expression means claims depending for suppart on the provi- to invoke the benefits of Treaties concluded by the United
sions of the Treaty of 1886, so that the claims will eventually Kingdom with third states and obtain redress for a denial of
stand or fall according as the lc~rovisionsof the Treaty are con- justice Mr. Ambatielos would have suffered-if the facts
strued in one way or another. Consequently, in respect of the alleged were true.
Ambatielos claim, it is not necessary for the Court to find that The other contention, based on Article XV, rests on an
the Hellenic Government's interpretation of the Treaty is the interpretation of the words "free access to the Courts of Jus-
only correct interpretation: it is enough to determine whether tice" appearing in that Article; again on the assumption that
the arguments advanced by the Hellenic Government in sup- the facts alleged are true, it is contended that Mr. Ambatielos
port of its interpretation are of a sufficiently plausible charac- did not have "free access" to English courts.
ter to warrant a conclusion that the claim is based on the Having regard to these contentions, as well as the diver-
Treaty. In other words, if an interpretation alppears to be an gence of views which give rise to them, and bearing in mind
arguable one, whether or not it ultimately prevails, then there especially the possible interpretation put forward by the Hel-
are reasonable grounds for concluding that the claim is based lenic Government of the provisions of the Treaty of 1886
on the Treaty. The validity of the respective arguments would which it invokes, the Court must conclude that this is a case
be determined by the Commission of Arbitration in passing in which the Hellenic Government is presenting a claim on
upon the merits of the difference. behalf of a private person based on the Treaty of 1886, and
The Court then proceeds to deal with two of the conten- that the difference between the Parties is the kind of differ-
tions put forward by Greece and contested! by the United ence which, according to the Agreement of 1926, should be
Kingdom. One is based on tlhe most-favoured-nation clause submined to arbitration.